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Psycho-Cybernetics by Maxwell Maltz.
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Psycho-Cybernetics explains how thinking of your mind as a machine can improve your self-image and dramatically increase your ability to feel successful and happy—you can program your mind to achieve success and happiness in the same way that you’d program a machine to achieve certain goals.

Part 1: What Is Psycho-Cybernetics?

This first part of the guide explores why Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon, began researching psychology and cybernetic theory to better understand why some people are prone to success, while others are prone to failure. We’ll then explain Maltz’s theory about how the human brain works to achieve goals according to cybernetic principles.

Why a Plastic Surgeon Turned to Psychology

Throughout his time working as a plastic surgeon, Maltz realized that there was a discrepancy between how different patients responded to the correction of “physical flaws.” After surgery, some patients displayed an immediate rise in self-esteem and self-confidence. As a result, they approached their goals more proactively and achieved more success than they did pre-surgery.

(Shortform note: Throughout the book, Maltz refers to “confidence” and “success” as interchangeable terms—he infers that the more confident you are, the more successful you are.)

However, other patients showed no change in their personalities after surgery—they continued to think, feel, and act exactly as if the “flaw” was still there, and their inner feelings and attitudes remained the same. Even though their outward appearance changed, they still didn’t feel any happier or see themselves differently, and their level of success didn’t improve.

(Shortform note: Psychological problems related to how people view their bodies are increasingly common. Research shows that cosmetic surgery patients are more likely to suffer from “Body Dysmorphic Disorder,” an obsessive-compulsive disorder centered on perceived physical flaws. It’s therefore vital that medical practitioners ensure that their patients are emotionally healthy before agreeing to undertake any procedures.)

Your Physical Appearance Doesn’t Define Your Self-Perception

The discrepancy in how patients responded to having their physical “flaws” corrected, led Maltz to pursue the connection between the mind and the body and its impact on levels of confidence and success.

Eventually, Maltz concluded that self-perception is far more important to success than physical appearance: Your physical features don’t determine your approach to life and your levels of success and happiness—only your thoughts about yourself impact how you behave and your quality of life. He realized that the key to self-improvement and more success was not simply to change external circumstances, but to remove negative thought patterns that caused patients to view themselves as unsuccessful.

(Shortform note: Like Maltz, Louise Hay, the founder of Hay House, argued that our beliefs about ourselves impact our ability to succeed and experience happiness. In her book, Love Your Body, she argues that you should love your body regardless of your (perceived) flaws. This act of compassion towards your body will release all negative thought patterns and the psychological illnesses (such as body dysmorphia) that arise from them.)

Cybernetics: Your Mind Works Like a Machine to Reach Goals

In an attempt to get to the root cause of why people choose to perceive themselves the way that they do, Maltz analyzed the process of success in reverse—he began to research the process the mind goes through to successfully achieve goals and how that links back to self-perception. Therefore, we’ll explain the mechanisms at play when you successfully achieve a goal.

(Shortform note: Maltz chose to analyze goals in reverse because of the way he viewed success: He didn’t see it as external manifestations of prestige such as an impressive career, big house, or expensive car. Instead, he referred to success as an internal feeling, specifically, the satisfaction you feel when you achieve a goal that’s meaningful to you. Because he believed that your levels of confidence impact your ability to succeed in achieving goals, and your self-perception impacts your confidence, he believed he could figure out the solution to success by analyzing how successful goals are achieved.)

Maltz’s research into the process the mind goes through to achieve goals led him to develop an interest in cybernetic theory—a branch of science that studies the goal-oriented behavior of machines. The more Maltz analyzed the way humans achieve goals, the more he realized that the human brain and nervous system operate in accordance with cybernetic principles.

To clarify how you achieve results in the same way that a cybernetic machine does, we’ll illustrate how both machines and humans rely upon an inbuilt guidance system that allows them to interpret positive and negative feedback to help them reach intended goals:

For a machine, imagine a missile programmed to hit a target: In this case, the missile has sensors in place which provide feedback to guide it to its target. This feedback is positive (missile’s on the correct path) and negative (missile’s not on the correct path). The missile continues to move forward and uses this feedback to correct its course and reach the target.

For the human mind, imagine how you learned to eat: The act of directing a spoon into your mouth took a lot of practice and there were many times that you ended up with food on your forehead or in your lap. Throughout all of this, your brain was trying to reach a target (get food into your mouth) and relied on positive and negative feedback to know if it was on the...

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Psycho-Cybernetics Summary Shortform Introduction

Psycho-Cybernetics is based on the theory that your mind functions according to cybernetic principles—you can program your mind to achieve success and happiness in the same way that you’d program a machine to achieve the results that you want. Maxwell Maltz suggests a number of methods to help you to consciously:

  • Raise awareness of your current self-image
  • Release your limitations
  • Build your self-confidence
  • Increase your ability to achieve success

About the Authors

Dr. Maxwell Maltz (1889-1975) was a plastic surgeon, lecturer, professor, and author. He was renowned worldwide for his expertise and skill in the field of plastic surgery.

Maltz released a number of fiction and non-fiction books, including:

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Psycho-Cybernetics Summary Part 1: Principles of Psycho-Cybernetics | Chapter 1: What Is Psycho-Cybernetics?

Psycho-Cybernetics explains how thinking of your mind as a machine can improve your self-image and dramatically increase your ability to feel successful and happy—you can program your mind to achieve success and happiness in the same way that you’d program a machine to achieve certain goals.

In this first part of the guide, we’ll cover the theory behind Psycho-Cybernetics. Then, in Part 2, we’ll discuss actionable ways to implement Maltz’s methods and improve your life.

In this chapter, we’ll explore why Maxwell Maltz, a plastic surgeon, began researching psychology and cybernetic theory to better understand why some people are prone to success, while others are prone to failure. We’ll then explain Maltz’s theory about how the human brain works to achieve goals according to cybernetic principles.

Why a Plastic Surgeon Turned to Psychology

Throughout his time working as a plastic surgeon, Maltz realized that there was a discrepancy between how different patients responded to the correction of “physical flaws.” After surgery, some of his patients would display an immediate rise in self-esteem and self-confidence—he noticed that these patients were more comfortable...

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Psycho-Cybernetics Summary Chapter 2: Your Self-Image Defines Your Experience

In the previous chapter, we examined how Maltz reached the conclusion that our brains work according to cybernetic principles: Our brains operate to successfully reach targets and find solutions. This conclusion leads to the assumption that all we need to do to achieve success and happiness is to decide on an appropriate goal and let our brain work like a machine that’s been directed to work on a specific action—it will automatically direct our thoughts and actions towards reaching that goal.

Unfortunately, things aren’t that simple: You may decide to achieve a goal, but deep down, your brain may not be programmed to achieve that goal. Maltz argues that your conscious goals often differ from your internal programming. For example, your conscious goal may be to make friends (results in success), but your internal programming might lead you to push people away (results in failure). This conflict between your conscious goal and your internal programming leads you to unhappiness and a feeling of failure because you can’t move past your internal programming.

(Shortform note: Maltz argues that when your conscious goals differ from your internal programming, you engage...

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Shortform Exercise: Examine Your Self-Image

Each person has a unique self-image that determines how they interpret and interact with different people and situations. Use this exercise to better understand your self-image.


Describe a recent situation in which you and another person disagreed because you interpreted the situation differently. This could be an interaction you were both involved in, or your response to some news—you both had access to the same information.

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Psycho-Cybernetics Summary Chapter 3: Positive Self-Image Versus Negative Self-Image

The previous two chapters make it clear that you need to make sure you have a positive self-image so that you can consistently achieve success and happiness in your life. Maltz argues that you need to examine what type of self-image you have so you can figure out if it’s working with you or against you.

But how can you figure out what kind of self-image you have if it lives in your subconscious mind? Maltz argues that your self-image—and the way it directs your subconscious to act—is expressed through your personality. Further, he claims that your habitual personality traits tend to fall into one of two personality types that define how you approach your life experiences: positive personality and negative personality.

(Shortform note: Maltz argues that your habitual personality traits define whether you have a positive or negative self-image. However, there are many people who suffer from a poor self-image but believe, and appear to others as if, they have positive personality traits: They use these positive traits to conceal their poor self-image. For example, consider people who give too much of themselves to others (their time, money, or effort). On the surface,...

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Psycho-Cybernetics Summary Part 2: Applying the Principles | Chapter 4: Use Your Imagination to Create Success

In the previous part, we learned how crucial your self-image is to your happiness and success. This is due to the influence it has on whether or not you pursue your goals, via its influence on your subconscious. We also learned that Maltz uses the process of hypnotism to argue that your self-image is not a real thing. It’s simply a construct of thoughts you chose to think about past experiences: thoughts that often don’t reflect reality because they’re fuelled by your imagination.

Maltz concludes from all of this that since your self-image is a result of hypnotization and imagination, you can use your imagination to “dehypnotize” yourself and improve your self-image. The more you improve your self-image, the more you improve the way your subconscious is programmed to act.

In this chapter, we’ll explore how you can use your imagination to replace negative thoughts and feelings with positive ones to reprogram your self-image. Next, we’ll discuss the benefits of mental practice and visualization, and how you can effectively hypnotize yourself into acting more successfully. Finally, we’ll briefly outline the process you need to follow to change your self-image.

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Shortform Exercise: What’s Holding You Back From Success?

To improve your self-image, you first need to think about the type of person you want to be. Next, you need to replace your negative thoughts and feelings with positive ones.


Is there a particular area of life where you would like to feel more self-confident? What is it?

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Psycho-Cybernetics Summary Chapter 5: Align Your Self-Image With What You Want

Now that you understand how your imagination can change your self-image, we’ll work through constructive, actionable ways you can generate successful feelings and reprogram your self-image to create goals aligned with success.

First, we’ll explain why it’s important to commit at least 21 days to the process that Maltz suggests. Then, we’ll explore specific methods you can use to finetune your imagination to align your subconscious actions with your conscious goals.

Commit 21 Days to Prove That You Can Change Your Self-Image

Maltz argues that self-improvement requires action to be effective. Therefore, if you want to improve your self-image, you need to actively engage with the concepts presented in the book.

He advises that you practice the concepts without overanalyzing them for at least 21 days. This is because, according to Maltz, the mind takes 21 days to identify with physical and mental changes. This means that the only way you can prove whether the methods work is by following the process for at least 21 days. So, although you might not see immediate results from engaging with the concepts, you need to wait several weeks before you can accurately judge...

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Shortform Exercise: What Does Success Look Like to You?

Maltz claims that your current habits and behaviors are a result of your self-image. If you want to improve your self-image, you need to define new habits to support this change.


Think of two of your current habits. What do you think these habits say about the type of person you are?

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Psycho-Cybernetics Summary Chapter 6: Release Your Limitations

Now that you understand how to create and focus on successful feelings to improve your self-image, we’ll explore methods you can use to let go of existing negative thought patterns that hold you back from success.

Maltz argues that the more you free yourself from responding to and identifying with negative thoughts—by deliberately creating successful feedback loops like a machine—the more likely you are to develop a happy and successful state of mind.

Your negative traits are nothing to be ashamed of—you originally adopted them as a way to solve a problem or protect yourself from future failures. However, if you wish to move forward and create more success in your life, you do need to make a conscious effort to replace those negative thoughts and feelings with positive thoughts and feelings.

(Shortform note: It’s often difficult to figure out if your thoughts are protecting you or holding you back from happiness. In The Work, Byron Katie presents a process to question the rationality of the thoughts and emotions that hold you back from feeling happy and successful. Katie argues that the more you question the validity...

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Shortform Exercise: Identify Your Fears

According to Maltz, your fears are a sign that you haven’t prepared yourself to meet challenges. Investigating your fears will help you to plan specific ways to overcome them.


What’s one thing you want to do but are too afraid to take action on?

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Shortform Exercise: What Are Your Triggers?

Maltz claims that you’re more likely to achieve success if you make the habit of replacing your negative thoughts with positive thoughts. For this exercise, think about something that triggers you into thinking negatively.


Describe a situation where you often find yourself reacting negatively.

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Table of Contents

  • 1-Page Summary
  • Shortform Introduction
  • Part 1: Principles of Psycho-Cybernetics | Chapter 1: What Is Psycho-Cybernetics?
  • Chapter 2: Your Self-Image Defines Your Experience
  • Exercise: Examine Your Self-Image
  • Chapter 3: Positive Self-Image Versus Negative Self-Image
  • Part 2: Applying the Principles | Chapter 4: Use Your Imagination to Create Success
  • Exercise: What’s Holding You Back From Success?
  • Chapter 5: Align Your Self-Image With What You Want
  • Exercise: What Does Success Look Like to You?
  • Chapter 6: Release Your Limitations
  • Exercise: Identify Your Fears
  • Exercise: What Are Your Triggers?